16 Days: Churches stand against gender violence 

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea take part in activities to launch 20 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Photo: ELCPNG/Asenath TUBIAN
Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea take part in activities to launch 20 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Photo: ELCPNG/Asenath TUBIAN

LWF member churches organize activities promoting ‘Awareness, Action and Accountability’

(LWI) - Ensuring the promotion of gender justice at every level throughout the communion: that’s the ambitious goal the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has set for itself, enshrined in the strategic priorities of the global communion for the coming years. 

As a crucial step towards achieving that goal, during the current 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, LWF member churches in all parts of the globe are engaging in activities to increase ‘Awareness, Action and Accountability’ to overcome violence and protect vulnerable women and children. 

School children in Zimbabwe’s Greater Bulawayo district take part in a march marking the 16 Days campaign to end Gender-Based Violence. Photo: EVCZ/Elitha Moyo
School children in Zimbabwe’s Greater Bulawayo district take part in a march marking the 16 Days campaign to end Gender-Based Violence. Photo: EVCZ/Elitha Moyo

In Zimbabwe, where over two thirds of all women are victims of violence, congregations in the Greater Bulawayo area have launched a two-year strategic plan which began with a Western Diocese pastors capacity building workshop. Activities organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe during the 16 Days campaign include an awareness training with community leaders, a march with speeches, dramas, sports, music, poems and a modelling event where young men and women held placards about equality and cooperation to end gender violence.

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea take part in activities to launch 20 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Photo: ELCPNG/Asenath Tubian 
Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea take part in activities to launch 20 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Photo: ELCPNG/Asenath Tubian 

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, men and women are holding 20 days of activism focused on ending domestic violence. At a peace march to launch the campaign, participants wore orange to highlight the United Nations theme of breaking the silence and making women's voices heard. In a context where there are increasing reports of abuse against women and girls in public spaces such as markets and bus stops, the church is working to educate children and parents in the home about respect, equality and right relationships. 

In Latin America, churches have produced liturgies for services to mark regular events such as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th and International Women’s Day, March 8th. Faced with trends by governments to roll back progress on women’s rights, churches are insisting on Luther's principles of the ‘church as a community of equals’ to challenge narratives of subordination and suspicion. 

All-year-round activities 

In India, where working for gender justice can often be dismissed as a kind of neo-colonialism, women leaders note that speaking out against violence and discrimination is an all-year-round activity. LWF Council member Ranjita Borgoari, who serves as the women’s desk secretary for the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI), explains how difficult it was to speak about the LWF gender justice policy in her country. 

At the beginning, she notes, some church leaders said: “‘This is foreign policy – it’s not for our church’.” But “thanks be to God,” she adds, through the patient work of prophetic women and men, “a dialogue has started and the UELCI, alongside one of India’s 12 LWF member churches (Christ Lutheran Church) has officially adopted its own gender justice policy.” 

Churches can serve to challenge and change the culture through theological education, advocacy and support of women in decision making and leadership, including the ordained ministry, in order to address and overcome sexual and gender-based violence
Rev. Judith VanOsdol, LWF Program Executive for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment

“Churches can serve to challenge and change the culture through theological education, advocacy and support of women in decision making and leadership, including the ordained ministry, in order to address and overcome sexual and gender-based violence”, says Rev. Judith VanOsdol, LWF Program Executive for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment. 

She notes that individual cases of rape, harassment or abuse represent simply “the tip of the iceberg.” Firstly, she says, this is due to the vast under-reporting of gender-based violence, secondly, because of the impunity, complicity and silence that surrounds it and thirdly, because of an underlying patriarchal culture of structural and institutional violence against women that sustains it. 

Empowering men and women to speak out   

The LWF has had an office dedicated to women’s issues since its second Assembly in Germany in 1952. For the past decades it has been building up regional networks and promoting equality by calling for at least 40% participation of women at all levels of church leadership. 

In 2013 its governing Council adopted a Gender Justice Policy that has been translated into more than 20 languages. Many churches have used this policy to help draw up responses to the challenges in their regions, empowering women and men to speak out about continuing injustice and gender-based violence.